I have written here in the past criticizing the New York Times. I do this because the New York Times is a widely-read paper among liberals, and while I believe liberals’ intentions are good (hence why I bother writing critiques of their ideological biases rather than those of conservatives) and the New York Times has employed competent journalists and does publish some good stuff, the overall track record of the New York Times, particularly in its coverage of global affairs, is one of using its impressive budget to reinforce the official US government-approved worldview, whether intentionally or out of sheer incompetence.
As I already noted in my piece on the New York Times’ coverage of the Iranian elections, the white, Anglo man who the New York Times has assigned the Iran “beat” doesn’t appear to understand how Iranian politics work, views Iranian internal politics from the perspective of the US-Iranian relations, and not Iranian people’s grievances (with both the US and Iranian governments) and aspirations. The result is a lot of concern for “reform” in Iran, which, as I mentioned, is more advanced in many ways than Saudi Arabia. While the lifting of Iranian sanctions appears to be conditional on nothing less than full regime change in Iran, the US government’s stance is that Saudi Arabia should be supported no matter how many are raped, imprisoned, tortured, killed in a country less democratic on every front than Iran. By some crazy “coincidence,” the New York Times also agrees that Iran is in need of immediate and total change, while Saudi Arabia is to be dealt with so slowly that nothing changes at all. Even as the US government arms Saudi Arabia. Even as Saudi Arabia uses those arms to invade other countries, to cheers from the New York Times. Even as New York Times writers dine with members of the royal family. Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons (according to both the New York Times and the US government) because it is a crazy Islamic theocracy that doesn’t understand the principles of democracy. Unlike Saudi Arabia, apparently.
For those of you who think I’m selectively highlighting the New York Times’ alarm at the oppressive Iranian government while avoiding their mentions of Saudi Arabia, let’s look at how the New York Times discusses GCC politics. They pull out this quote to summarize the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Qatar:
“It’s starting to look as if the Qataris have ceased playing the role of troublemaker and freelancer in the region, and falling in behind the Saudis,” said Peter Harling, an adviser with the International Crisis Group. “Events are allowing the Saudis to assume a regional leadership role that no one else can play right now.”
So Saudi Arabia has a sort of obligation to lead “the region” (“no one else can”), and if another backward Arab dictatorship were to threaten Saudi hegemony, they are “troublemakers.” Thus speaks the International Crisis Group, thus quotes the New York Times, and thus feels the US government: Saudi Arabia is not only a-okay, it represents some sort of natural order, and its enemies represent some sort of sinister chaos.
The New York Times hires fanatical Zionists to report on “the conflict,” such as Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner. The New York Times praises protests against Putin while devoting minimal attention to Japanese protests against the US government. The New York Times praises the historic victory of the US having “a black president” while ignoring how many Africans view the PRC government with more sympathy than Obama (with good reason, since he seems to believe in murdering Africans as much as any other US president, and has no concern for the economic and political grievances of Africans, indeed, viewing their murder as profitable). I could go on, but you get the idea: There are some politically motivated biases at play.
Why is the coverage so bad? It’s not always simply that the staff of the New York Times sits around plotting ways to reinforce the US government’s worldview for a liberal audience. In fact, I suspect it’s not merely about their political biases: There is also an important cultural bias which significantly weakens their journalistic abilities: They are all ignorant as hell. And I’m not just talking about Thomas Friedman.
Seriously though, scan through the articles on international affairs and the overwhelming trend you’ll notice is that the author tends to have a white Anglo name (you may also notice that it’s usually a male name). Click on their biographies, and you’ll note that they rarely speak the languages of the places they’re reporting on. Check the bottom of the articles on foreign countries, and you’ll notice “contributions” from people with more “native” names. Am I arguing that they ought to just employ said natives rather than giving the credit to a white “medium” who gets credit for relaying the information relayed to them from the “contributor”? Yes and no. Either way, without the knowledge of these countries’ histories and political culture, how do they know which native sources are credible? In their recent coverage of intercommunal violence in Burma, one “contributing reporter” is Wai Moe, a Burmese himself, and the articles are very good. And that’s almost certainly because Wai Moe is good. They have the good fortune of having stumbled upon a serious Burmese reporter as their “native informant.” But on the other hand, when they study Lebanon, a deeply divided country where political and religious alliances often shift and where attacks (verbal and physical) on opposing factions are commonplace, their immediate trust in their March 14 sources (allied with Saudi Arabia, as opposed to the more pro-Syrian March 8 faction) should raise eyebrows, but it is a consistent trend at the New York Times. Do they know March 14 lies sometimes, and simply prefer their lies to March 8 lies because the US government does? Or are they just suspicious of Hizbullah and this makes them think that anyone who opposes Hizbullah is trustworthy? Whether intentional or accidental, this is not honest reporting.
I am perfectly willing, as noted above, to admit when the New York Times does something right. But newspapers do not deserve awards for doing something right every once in a while. When the apparent modus operandi of a paper is to send ignorant white liberals around the world to confirm the biases of an ignorant white liberal audience, particularly with regard to the US empire, the exceptions to this trend do not mean that the trend does not exist. On the contrary, we ought to focus on the general shortcomings, rather than point at exceptionally good coverage, when evaluating the quality of the paper. While I admit that while usually biased and/or misinformed, the terrible journalistic methods of the New York Times occasionally result in a successful piece, their readership does not admit that those same methods are more often than not NOT a source of clear and objective information about the world.
Let’s not allow another generation to be raised that turns to the New York Times for the final word on what is happening around the world.